Sunday, January 13, 2019

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: American Wheat Beer Taste Off

What do you do when life gives you lemons?  Make lemonade, of course.  Or put a wedge in your wheat beer.

We taped the video below as a normal taste off and found when we went to edit it that the battery had died in the microphone, leaving us with no sound at all.  So what to do?  Make and old fashioned silent movie!

Watch the Video!

Go ahead and watch.  We taste test Sam Adams Coastal Wheat beer, which already has a splash of lemon in it, against the Widmer Hefeweizen from Portland, Oregon.

Which one do we like best?  Watch the video to find out.  I will tell you that we tried both with and without the lemon and found that we liked it with the lemon best in each case.



Friday, January 11, 2019


Although the state is criss-crossed with interstates, freeways, superhighways and is home to more millions of Americans than any other state, once in awhile you can find a seldom traveled stretch of asphalt that is actually a time machine.
One such road exists starting at highway 140 in the foothill town of Cathey’s Valley, about 20 miles east of Merced, California.
Turning north on Hornitos Road will take you through some spectacular rolling hill country dotted with happy cows. Green in the winter and spring, golden in summer and fall.

Watch the Video!

After about nine miles, you’ll start to see mounds of rocks scattered about the creek off to the side.  Dug up around 150 years ago, these are tailings left by the original Gold Rush miners.  Following that creek, you’ll end up at the little town of Hornitos, which was settled by Mexicans who were kicked out of the nearby town of Quartzburg.
The joke is on them because Hornitos soon pulled much more riches out of the ground than their unwelcoming neighbors.
A collapsed shack sits a few feet from the sturdy jail.  The remains of a brick building stand next to the community hall. Across the street from that is an old brick saloon with sturdy iron doors and a cafĂ© that saw its last customer half a century ago.  Overlooking all of it is a tiny, white, Catholic church manning the watch over the town’s graveyard which features dirt packed so hard that the original inhabitants had to put their dead in above ground mounds that looked like the ovens the women used in baking.

Because of the appearance of the graves, the town was named after them using the Spanish word for “little ovens.”
You’ll come to understand why Hornitos is listed as a Gold Rush ghost town on many websites, books, and articles.  Although much rough and rowdy history has happened in and around the streets of this village, it’s not quite correct to call it a ghost town…yet.

The Ortiz family still opens the saloon on the town’s plaza. Come in and have a shot of tequila…the bartender would like it if you chose the Hornitos reposado over the Patron…and chat with him. There’s him and one customer as the three of us have our shots.
Manuela Ortiz is the legend who would open the bar when she felt like it and hold court with her shot of brandy. A living link to the town’s storied past, Manuela is now suffering the memory loss of advanced age and living in a home down the hill in Merced.
Her son now stands in her place, giving us the update on her condition and pouring our shots…without lemon or salt…as he tells us he appreciates it.
The saloon sits across the parking lot from the tiny U.S. Post office. That comprises 2/3 of the remaining businesses in town and the post office is on the verge of closing. A gift shop operates out of an old general store at the north end of town.
Over $8 million dollars worth of gold has been pulled out of the ground here. The population grew to 8, 10, or 12 thousand people depending on which source you consider reliable.  Down to 65 now, it does seem the spirits outnumber the living here.
Ruins are mixed in with the private residences and the few commercial buildings. Across from the Ortiz’s saloon…next to an out-of-place looking, very modern handicapped parking spot…sit the collapsed walls of a brick building.  Here, back before statehood, Domingo Ghiradelli opened a store.

He would not be here very long, moving on to San Francisco, but the little plot of land is still owned by the company he and his family founded…the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company.
In the plot next door, whatever building had stood is long gone but a mound in the dirt is covered with assorted boards and corrugated metal. The barrier is to keep people out of the tunnel inside that is a danger for collapsing.

In its rowdier past, the town was full of saloons. Beneath the saloons on the underground level were bordellos. So that the customers could arrive without being seen, tunnels were dug to connect them
A couple of doors north, another old saloon sits. Across the street, a tree grows out of the hole another collapsed brothel tunnel created.
There are two handicapped parking spaces in town. One is a new, state-of-the-art concrete creation with multiple ramps for access adjacent to the Stagg Hall, home of the town's annual enchilada festival each March. The other is across the street at the post office.  We're almost the only people here so we just park in a regular spot in front of the old cafe...I don't think they'll be getting any customers today to block our ramp.

We wander around town. Technically, it’s not too accessible with just a few feet of sidewalk, but the traffic is so light Tim can drive his wheelchair on the road without problem.
It’s a block or so to the north end of town where the gift shop sits. We wander in, buy some candy and beads, and check out the art work. I can believe that we were the only sale that day.

We drive up the hill to the graveyard. Someone at some time must have gotten access to some earth moving equipment because all the graves are now below ground.  The dirt is very hard, though.
There’s an admirable view fromup here high above the town. We spend a few minutes wandering the graves, seeing dates going back to the Gold Rush days along with some wooden markers whose inscriptions have long worn off in the weather here.

Going back down, we navigate through a flock of wild turkeys mingling with the ghosts in the town. Past the old school house on the outskirts of town, and then back towards the highway.
It would be wrong to call it a ghost town now but the town is hanging on the edge.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

PHOTO ESSAY: Outtakes from the Gold Rush

Here are some photos that didn't make the cut on this week and last week's articles. Not because they're bad pics but just because they didn't fit the narrative for some reason.  Still, they give you some insight into other things that were going on during this trip.  Above, the Restful Nest B&B in Mariposa really has modern plumbing...this outhouse hides one of their water wells.

A Woody club joins us on the freeway on our way across the Grapevine.

This guy doesn't belong's really a VW beetle made up to look like a Woody. Imposter!

Our state flower is starting to paint the hillsides.

Hummingbirds gather at the feeder at The Restful Nest.

The pond at Butterfly Creek Winery, just east of Mariposa.

Goldfinches on the thistle sock at The Restful Nest.

Graves in Hornitos.

Daffodils at The Restful Nest.

And, finally, I found this little plant while hiking near The Restful Nest. Lois told me what it was but I forgot. Anyone know?

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick and Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 4, 2019


The Fishing Pond at the Restful Nest

It was the summer of 1999 when we first navigated these roads. According to the directions the innkeeper gave me, if I got to town on highway 140, I’ve gone too far but I found the Yaqui Gulch turnoff. When I got to the old highway, look for the brick water well house, Buckeye Road would start right next to it…don’t turn right, don’t turn left. Just sort of go cockeyed straight onto it. Past the three mailboxes on the left, slow down and look for Buckeye Creek Road and turn left…if you get to Ben Hur Road, you’ve gone way too far…

Hand Picked Vintners Wines Straight to your door- Exclusive member discounts

It is a challenge the first time you try to find the Restful Nest but once you do, you’ve found bed and breakfast paradise.  We’ve come here several times over the years to recharge, visit the area’s many sights and attractions, and…most of all…to visit with the owners, Jon and Lois Moroni, who have turned into friends.

Watch the Video!

It’s been too long between visits, however, as we haven’t been here since Tim went to college. Their lab mix, Casey…who’d fetch sticks long after the stars came out…has since died. Jon has gone through a bout of cancer, successfully thankfully, and Lois no longer smokes.

Still, it’s the same bed and breakfast we came to know and love.

With only three rooms (there’s actually four but Lois only rents three at the most) set on 11 acres, it’s a bit of heaven sitting five miles away from town with hiking trails, fishing pond, great stargazing, wild animal sightings, and a pool and spa.

It’s not technically accessible. The toilet is in a narrow space and the small shower is also too cramped for a chair to use but there is a smooth path to the room and, since we notified them ahead of time about the chair, Jon build a ramp so Tim’s wheelchair could ascend to the upper balcony and dining room.  (If you need a fully accessible room, you might try the Best Western or Comfort Inn in town)
We spend some time catching up with the Moroni’s after dinner and then head down to our room to rest up. There is a TV in the room but you’ll only get three channels here in these rural hills.
In town, we find a place to park uphill from the main street so it will be easy to roll down. We do a little window shopping  and souvenir hunting on the old sidewalks. Mariposa is an old Gold Rush town so access can be spotty. One end of the block is ramped but the other end is stairs so you’ll need to double back to get to the other side of the street.  Some of the shops in these old buildings do not have access but many do.

Mariposa was known for pulling a lot of gold out of the ground. Today, it’s not as touristy as other Gold Rush towns farther up highway 49 in the Motherlode but more of a real town. People here work regular jobs and there’s a sense of community here.  Kids belong to 4H or the FFA and the fairgrounds are busy with local celebrations and festivals…we like to show up on Labor Day weekend for the county fair.

John C. Fremont, the soldier and explorer, called Mariposa home. At the end of the sidewalk, Bett’s Silver Coin restaurant sits in the adobe building he constructed…the only three story adobe building in the Motherlode.

At the north end of town, next to the Burger King, is the Mariposa Museum and History Center with its mining stamp mills and historical dioramas of local history.

At the south end of town, in the parking lot of the fairgrounds, is the California Mining and Mineral Museum.  With a recreated mine tunnel and hundreds of examples of gems, it’s a real treasure to see. The star of the show here is the largest intact gold nugget ever found in the state, a real whopper at 13.8 pounds.
Both museums charge $4 for admission.

Jon and Lois serve a huge breakfast to guests everyday and we don’t get out to eat too much in Mariposa but there are a number of good places to eat when the hunger does eventually strike. Our favorites are the Nachos at Castillo’s and the pizza just a few doors down at the Pizza Factory.

Mariposa is part of the Sierra Foothills AVA and has a few up and coming wineries in the area.  While Silver Fox is open by appointment only and Chappel Winery has a storefront downtown, you can visit the other two wineries…Casto and Butterfly Creek…for tastings.  If you like friendly dogs, be sure to visit Butterfly Creek, located on Triangle Road on the way to Yosemite, just east of town.

All Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting can take you on 1 or 2 day trips down the Merced River, which is just a few miles north of town.  Yosemite is 35 miles to the east and one of the best day trips you will ever do.

Old gold towns abound in the area and are fun to explore. For a more hands-on experience, you can pan for gold at the mining museum or at Paystreak on highway 140 just west of town.  Many shops in the area also sell pieces of gold mined in the area…one mine is still operating commercially.

Not as well known as the other Gold Rush towns farther up highway 49, Mariposa will give you that Gold Rush feeling without being overwhelmed by tourists. Give it a try next time you’re headed towards Yosemite…we think you’ll end up in love with it like we are.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Caregiver Chronicles: In Praise of the Mighty McNugget

One of our duties as caregivers is feeding. Tim is very limited in his ability to feed himself so Letty and I have to step in to do it.  It's not because Tim has a special diet, it's because of his limited motor skills that he has problems using utensils and keeping the food either on the plate or in his mouth instead of everywhere else.

We've graded each food on how easy it is to feed, hot dogs, penne, and macaroni are among foods that are easy. Burgers, depending on how elaborate the toppings are can be easy or a pain in the ass.

God forbid if Tim wants to eat a chili cheese burger.

The Holy Grail, however, are the foods that Tim can feed himself.

Not too messy finger foods, like grapes or fries, can be handled by him. I can cut up a banana or an apple and he can also feed himself using a special OXO grip fork we have for him.

For breakfast, I'll alternate between a banana, apple, grapes, or maybe another seasonal fruit put in a little compote bowl for him where I can just sit it on the table and let him go to town (Tim's never been a big breakfast person so he doesn't eat or care for the egg dishes I cook).

Sunday, in particular, is a day I like to take it easy.  Of course, that's a relative term around here.  On the Day of Rest, I still have to cook two meals, feed him dinner, get him dressed, help him with his bathrooming, put him in his recliner for his evening relaxing time in front of the TV, get him undressed and put him back in bed (yes, that's the easy day...).

Since I'm trying to relax and take it easy, Sunday is also a lunch treat for Tim and myself.  I'll go get him the ultimate feed-yourself lunch...a chicken nugget meal from one of our local fast food restaurants.

The nuggets are the perfect size for Tim to pick up, dip in the sauce, eat, have a few fries, and wash it down with a strategically placed soda and straw.

For those fifteen minutes, I'm in my happy place where Tim can do something for himself and I can have a little time to not worry about it.

Yes, I will always praise the Mighty McNugget for the small weekly break it gives me.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 31, 2018

Year in Review 2018

This year was a huge year for me. In March, I ended my 30 year career at the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. I made it...I'm retired! And nothing has diminished the joy of that word - retired - since that happy day.

Of course, not having to go to work every day, face the Los Angeles commute, get up early, etc., means there are big changes in life. Not having to work in L.A. anymore means we really don't have to live here anymore, either, so we're gearing up for our own Escape From L.A.

That means travel will be light for awhile while we accomplish this relocation. Our only travel for the next few months will be house hunting and moving trips up to the northern half of our state.

Still, we did do some traveling this year so lets recap some of the highs and lows...

Best Pizza - Tim and I are pizza fanatics and love a good pie. We've had some great deep dish pizzas at Chicago Fire in the Sacramento area and Rance's in Long Beach, California. Our local favorites Joey's Red Devil and Casa Bianca continue to produce top-notch pizzas but the best we had this year was the star pizza at Mister01 Pizza in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.

A splendid, thin crust pie with pointed handles of crust filled with ricotta making it a tasty and easy way to pick up the pizza.

As for hotels, there were none that were truly spectacular this year but the Homewood Suites we stayed at in St. Petersburg, Florida was a solid hotel. In fact, the Homewood Suites brand (part of Hilton) has been pretty reliable for us in general. The Doubletree Suites we stayed at in Rancho Cordova...just east of another solid hotel where we scored a two story loft on one stay and a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, sprawling suite on another.

Air travel was light this year, with only two airlines flown. Those were Southwest and American Airlines. While Southwest continues to provide superior service, American is still slowly descending from its once lofty place on our list. I can still see glimpses of the old airline in there somewhere but it's a shame. It used to be our favorite way to fly.

Tim took his first cruise this year, a four day Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas from Miami. was really kind of miserable. Another shame, we were really looking forward to that.

This was also the year that we completed our greatest travel see every stadium in Major League Baseball. We wrapped it up with visits to the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Miami Marlins. Funny that we had no great expectations of the Rays stadium in St. Petersburg but that was an outstanding place to watch a game. Atlanta and Miami? Among the worst baseball experiences we've ever had.

Fall took us to three California destinations. Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, and another trip to the state's Motherlode region.

It's well known that we like the Gold Country enough to move there.

Santa Barbara had some the Boz Scaggs concert and dinner at Presto Pasta...and lows like a blocked wheelchair ramp at a restaurant we were looking forward to going to.

Catalina...where I proposed to my wife over 35 years ago and have not been to relatively unchanged. It's a lot more expensive than it used to be but is still a quaint little slice of old-time California beach town.

And that's pretty much been our kind of light travel year. We'll pick this up again next year after we've moved. Thank you for your support of The World on Wheels.

Happy New Year!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 28, 2018

CLASSIC TRIP: Las Vegas II, Nevada - 2002

We're going to wrap up the Las Vegas part of our salute to Nevada with this other trip to Sin City.  This is also new to the blog and was taken about six months after our previous trip.  Enjoy...

So we had a chance to stay at Mandalay Bay which has, by most accounts, Las Vegas' best pool.  We arrived during the last week in July and were looking forward to staying at one of the city's premiere resorts...

Around 1:00pm, we pull into the valet parking area at Mandalay Bay.  That in itself is quite a feat for first timers because it is very hard to find.  There is a line of about five cars and a sign saying "sorry, lot full".  A parking attendant comes along and asks us to roll down our window.  He says it will be about five minutes and we'll be able to pull in.

True to his word, about five minutes later he's back, guiding us in.  I tell him we have a ramp and to please put us somewhere I can deploy it.  He says ok and proceeds to put us 2 feet from the car next to us with no room for the ramp.  I then ignore him and pull forward to where I can open the ramp...I figure if he can ignore my request, I can ignore his.  No one makes any kind of deal about this and we proceed to get out of the van.

About ten minutes later, a bellman comes up and takes our luggage and we go to registration to check in. 

There is a HUGE crowd at the check in counters.  

Here is the first place I see where Mandalay Bay could improve itself.  There are around fifty check-in counters open.  Instead of having one line and whoever is next in line go to the next open window (like an airport or a bank), they insist that each counter have its own line.  Too bad if your counter person is very slow and you didn't get in the line with the fast person.

Check in goes very, very slow.  An hour and fifteen minutes later we finally get up to the counter, get our keys, and go up to our room.

Our roomy ninth floor room is very nice.  Two queen size beds and floor to window ceilings.  A 27" TV in a amoire, his and hers closets, and a big bathroom.  The bathroom has a tub and a separate shower.  There are two sinks, all the toiletries you could ever want (plus more), and the toilet is in its own separate little room with a phone.

OK, so we call up the bell desk to get our luggage.  Just a few minutes more and we'll be ready to hit the town....

Except that we have to wait another hour for our luggage!  So, pulling into the valet, checking in, and getting our luggage....grand total, two and a half hours.  Mind you, this is one of the more expensive hotels in Las Vegas.

After getting our luggage, we hop on the monorail and head over to the Tropicana.  We just have barely enough time to grab a very quick bite for lunch and then settle down to watch the Rick Thomas Magic Show.

Tropicana Security escorts us around the backstage area where we can get to the accessible table seats in the Tiffany Theater.  We get good seats at the middle aisle and it's a very good show.

The illusions range all the way from simple card tricks to making white tigers appear out of thin air.  Sigfreid and Roy are not the only white tiger handlers in Vegas.  In fact, Thomas makes a point of this fact that the white tiger is rare with only about 100 left in the world.  He has one...and Sigfried and Roy have the rest.

There is no drink minimum at this show and regular price is $16.95.  You can also win free or discounted tickets at the free pull slot machine in front of the casino.  This fantastic show is really a bargain and one of the few shows in town you can be comfortable taking kids to.

After the show, we head back to our room to rest and refresh before heading out to see the evening's sights.  That evening, we drive up to the Flamingo where we park and head out to the strip.

First, we have a decent dinner at the Flamingo's coffee shop and then cross the street to the Mirage where we take in their famous volcano show.  It's pretty spectacular but short.  It's not quite up to the spectacle that the fountains in front of the Bellagio are.

Next, we were going to head over to Treasure Island to see the pirate show.  The crowds were just too thick and we couldn't get to within a block of the place, so we cancelled that one.

Instead, we head back across the street to the Venetian where gondolas ply the canals.  Really, they just do circles around the pond out from and make laps of the one canal inside.  At $15 per person, it just didn't look worth it to us (for a great gondola ride at a great price - free - see our Dining in Scottsdale report).

Inside the Venetian, I have to give high marks to their shopping area.  It's beautiful....and this is coming from a typical guy who hates to shop and will go to great lengths to avoid a mall.  The ceiling looks exactly like a daytime sky.  The grand canal with its many bridges puts a very serene backdrop to the area, and the grand plaza with its many performers is an entertaining place to sip a cool and refreshing drink.

Back outside, there is a plaza between Bally's and the Imperial Palace with a Mardi Gras theme that offers free live entertainment in an outdoor theater.  It's kinda cramped but it's still a fun place to waste some time.

The crowds on the strip have done their job at wearing us down, so we head back to our hotel at the southern end of the strip.

The next morning we order up some room service for breakfast and make a pleasant discovery.  You see, last night we were walking by the coffee shop and notice a basic bacon & eggs breakfast was around twenty dollars.  We figured for that price, we might as well order room service.  So we order just a side order of eggs, a side order of bacon, and coffee for breakfast and found out that with room service, they throw in all the other stuff like fruit, toast, and hash browns anyway. 

Although it turned out to still be expensive compared to many places, it was quite a bit less than the coffee shop downstairs  and we had a spectacular view from our little table next to the big windows in our room.

Picture courtesy of Flickr
dcwriterdawn under CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Today, our plan is to spend the entire day at Mandalay Bay's gigantic pool area.  At eleven acres, it is quite a sight.  Access is strictly controlled to allow only hotel guests in.  Everyone, down to the littlest child, must posses a room key to get inside.  All are checked.

Inside, there is a huge sandy-beached wave pool with four foot waves suitable for body surfing.  There are two smaller, traditional pools, a few hot tubs, and a lazy river.

We find some lounge chairs adjacent to the lazy river.  

Tim has never been in a wave pool, so that's the first order of the day.  We can get his wheelchair almost up to the edge, but from then on I have to carry him in.  Since the pool is very shallow at the edge and very gradually deepens, it's quite a feat to get him to water deep enough to float in.

After bounding around the waves for about an hour, I manage to get him out and we make our way over to the lazy river.  A hut rents tubes for the river but at a cost...$20 per day.  You can trade back and forth between the tube or a floating lounge during the day at no extra cost (Only tubes are allowed in the lazy river but you can take the floating lounge into the regular pools. Neither one is allowed in the wave pool).  Life jackets are free.  You can also buy a tube ahead of time at Walgreens or a sporting goods store so you avoid the rental fee.

I help Tim into his tube, jump into mine and proceed to float around for the next few hours while my wife alternates with laying in the sun and occasional forays into the river.  A cave with two waterfalls ensures that no part of you will stay dry in the lazy river.

Servers sporadically bring drinks to our lounges...very sporadically.  I also found out that giving them a big tip does nothing to speed up their rounds!  There's a couple of good restaurants here and we have lunch at the nearest one with hot dogs, burgers and salads.

The pool here is one of Vegas' great pools but I like the laid back party atmosphere of the Tropicana's pool better.  I don't know if it's the correct term I'm looking for, but the crowd around the Mandalay Pool seems a little more uptight.

After our day in the water and sun, we head downtown to what is supposed to be one of the city's finest steak houses, The Ranch at Binion's Horseshoe.

On arrival, we make our way through the smoky casino to the restaurant elevator.  Despite emphasizing we had a wheelchair upon making our reservation, no table is held for us.  We end up being the only diners that do not have a table right up next to the top floor windows.

We order and soup is brought.  I have to admit, the soup was delicious.  Next the steaks.  Supposedly dry-aged, USDA prime steaks from their own ranch, they were not near as tender or tasty as they should have been.  The Ranch, far from being the best, was a major disappointment for us.

We go back to the hotel, pack up, and the next morning - after another round of room service - check out and go home.

Lesson learned: More does not mean better.  As you can see in the main story above, the Tropicana at one third the price delivered twice as much fun and bang for the buck as the supposedly luxurious Mandalay Bay down the street.

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley: The 800 Pound Gorilla

Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, BarbecueFrench, Italian, Polish, HungarianPizzaMongolian Barcbecue, Pakistani, Indian, Peruvian, Malaysian, Burmese

We've covered 40 different ethnic cuisines, depending on how you slice it. The San Gabriel Valley has proven itself an food diversity powerhouse will all these different cuisines...

...yet we've been holding off on one til the very end.

While most visitors rarely venture east of downtown, and only to Pasadena on New Year's Day...if that...the valley is world renown for one type of cuisine. Yes, it's finally time to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

You would be hard-pressed to find a larger population of Chinese people anywhere in the world outside of the San Gabriel Valley unless you're talking about China or Taiwan. It stands to reason that the biggest slice of the ethnic food pie in the SGV is covered by the various varieties of Chinese Food.

While most of America has Chinese restaurants in their towns, it's mostly of the Americanized "with six you get eggroll" kind of food. We have a few of those here, notably Wang's Palace in Monrovia which is a very nice representation of that old-school type of restaurant, but it's quickly being supplanted by something more original, authentic, daring, and...most of all...very tasty.

Not to knock the sweet 'n sour pork and chop suey of the older establishments but they just don't compare with what we can get now.

The variety is staggering. You have your Hong Kong style coffee shops; Taiwanese dumpling houses; the steamy Szechuan dinner houses...even Islamic Halal Chinese food and vegetarian places. Starting in Monterey Park through Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead...reaching up into Arcadia with tendrils running along the Puente Hills to Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar, there are hundreds of places to get great (and not so great) Chinese food.

As much as we've tried, we still have a long, long way to go before we get to it all.

A good place to start is the famous Taiwan dumpling chain, Din Tai Fung. The location on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia is America's first outpost of this Taipei-based chain.  With an extensive menu that is mostly ignored for the star of the show. You come here to get Xao Long Bao...steamed pork soup dumplings.

Very delicate, hot, juicy and tasty. Just how they get all that pork and broth goodness into those soft balls of thin dough is a mystery. Eating them is not.  I like to mix a little rice vinegar in a bowl with a good dose of chili oil...both of which sit on each table.  Poke a hole in the shell of the dumpling, put it into my mixture, roll it around for a few minutes so that the surface and the interior are throughouly mixed with the vinegar and oil.

Pop it into my mouth, whole, for an explosion of juicy, spicy, and incredible flavor.  A serving of 10 dumplings...just enough for around eight dollars.  Come early to avoid the crowd.

Arcadia is also the home of Andy Cherng, who opened a small chain called Panda Inn starting in Pasadena.  You might know of the take out version of the Panda Inn he also started that now has nation-wide outlets bringing their signature orange chicken to the masses, Panda Express.

For a more traditional feast, we'll head to the Golden Dragon...also in get their incredible, crunchy Mandarin orange beef. It's flash cooked in a wok full of hot chilis and orange peels.  It is similar to orange chicken but much crunchier and with a deeper, savory taste.

One of our best Chinese delights is hot and sour soup.  This tasty broth with both a sour vinegar component mixed with hot chili is what we crave when we have a cold or sore throat. Nothing gets our sinuses clearer or soothes our throats faster. While many passable to very good renditions exist in the valley, it's the fiery broth of Happy Noodle in El Monte that fits the bill for us.

Some of the best Chinese cuisine exists with ingredients your mom told you to avoid. Intestines, feet, rotten eggs, stinky tofu...all can be great in the hands of a good cook.

These are the kinds of foods we make the trek over to Rowland Heights to eat at Remy's Noodle Palace, next to the Home Depot just south of the 60 freeway.

While I've tried a lot of those offal offerings, the best is the gelatinous bits of cow tendon floating in hot broth with soft noodles. Similar to the taste of ossu buco marrow, you will not think there's enough in the giant bowl they serve you.

My wife and I also like to get the half-foot long pot stickers they serve here on the side. Like most really good versions you have had only much, much bigger.

So there you have it. A celebration of diversity with over forty different ethnic cuisines in one, small valley. Next time you're in Southern California, you owe it to yourself to jump just a bit east of downtown L.A. (take the Gold Line if you don't want to drive) and try one of these deliciously different foods.


Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 24, 2018

CLASSIC TRIP: Las Vegas, Nevada - 2002

NOTE: See video of our helicopter flight at the end of this report, below...

Sunday dawned and after a delicious breakfast, we continued on to Vegas.  Since we were a bit early, a drive down the strip to see the casinos and hotels was in order for Tim.  Soon, the traffic proved to be unbearable so we headed over to the Tropicana, our home for the next couple of days.  Still early for check-in, we parked the car and headed across the street to the New York, New York casino.

NYNY is elaborately themed.  There is a 300 foot replica of the Brooklyn Bridge you can cross over to get to the entrance.  The skyscrapers of New York...the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building among others...are reproduced in half scale as is the Statue of Liberty out from.

The casino is themed to Central Park and in the back is a very nice streets of New York section with many places to eat.  A lot of attention to detail went in here down to the steam rising up through the manhole covers. 

We ended up at the Mango Hut, which is an homage to those great juice and hot dog places in New York such as Gray's Papaya.

While one hot dog will set you back four times as much as it would at Gray's, it's still a big beefy sausage and it was delicious.

At 1:00pm, we headed back across the street to check in at the Tropicana.  We had planned on seeing their Birdman show at 2:00 but an hour later I was just reaching the counter to check in. 

As we walked to our room in the rear tower, we passed the bird show.  It looked interesting but the location of it...a lounge that was basically a wide spot in the hall...was not too conducive to a show.

Our room was pretty nice.   A king size bed for my wife and I, and a full size sofa bed for Tim; lot's of room to maneuver; a great view of the pool area and the strip; and a large bathroom with a large bathtub.  I asked about the accessible rooms and the only difference was grab bars on the toilet and tub so we stuck with the normal room.  No roll-in showers here.

The Rick Thomas Magic show is also found at the Trop and we were looking forward to its family-friendly reasonably priced entertainment, but Mr. Thomas was on vacation for a few more days.  Add this to the list for things to do next time.

With the afternoon magic showed cancelled, we put on our swimwear and headed down to the pool.  The pool here at the Trop has got to be in the top three or four of all Vegas hotel pools.  It's huge, has waterfalls, an island, a water volleyball court, an indoor section, the summer...swim up blackjack!
Looking Across the Tropicana's Pool Toward NYNY and the MGM Grand

There are also a couple of smaller pools nearby in this heavily landscaped area.  One for adults and one for kids.  Not to mention, a few spas here and there.

Lifeguards are on duty during pool hours.  You can rent a tube and just float around or get a lounge chair and soak up the rays.  A pool side bar will take care of your thirst.  If you have money to burn, three private pool cabanas are available.

Tim and I chose to float and swim around in our inner tubes while my wife spent most of her time working on the tan.

I had read on a Vegas web site that the San Remo had one of the best cheap prime rib specials in town.  Being very close to our room, we walked over for dinner.  I don't know if that web writer has been there lately, but it was really bad.  Bad food, bad service...but cheap...and to top it off, the security guards started hassling Tim because he lingered a little too close to the slot machines while I paid the dinner bill.  Not doing anything but waiting mind you, but given a hard time by an unnecessarily rude guard.  When I complained, he said he was just doing his job but I think you could ask someone to move a little nicer.

Across the street from the San Remo was a monorail station at the MGM Grand.  It's accessible but the elevators are not too easy to find but there are signs to mark the way.  This monorail (an old Disney World train) takes you a few blocks north to the back of Bally's hotel and casino. 

From there it is a very long walk through the casino out to the Strip.  Wheelchairs have the added bonus of taking several elevators to navigate up and down levels along the way.

Out on the Strip, we are deposited directly in front of the Bellagio hotel.  Here, we are able to watch the huge fountain show on the lake in front of the building.  It's really spectacular (someone said it's a quarter mile line of fountains) and best of all, free.

Our plans had included taking in the pirate battle at the Treasure Island and the Volcano at the Mirage, and seeing the shops at Paris and Caesar's Palace but my wife was worn out and had back pain from all the walking so we headed back to the monorail to return to the hotel.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Trop's coffee shop, Calypso's.  It was very good but a bit on the expensive side ($8.50 for what was essentially a Grand Slam without the bacon).  In comparison, back at Buffalo Bill's, a New York steak & eggs breakfast was only $2.95.  Delicious too!

After breaking our fast, we headed over to the MGM where there is a Coca-Cola store and M&M World (basically anything and everything you'd want to buy - plus more - adorned with Coke & M&M logos).  The 75 cent Cokes in the old-fashioned bottles hit the spot and my wife loaded up on some pretty cool Coke souvenirs.  We didn't buy a thing at the M&M store.

In Front of the Luxor...Notice the Monorail Track

Catty corner to the Trop is Excalibur where another accessible monorail whisked us down the road to Mandalay Bay.  My wife bought some shoes in the shop there and we then boarded another train to take us to the Luxor next door where we gaulked at the re-created Egyptian monuments.  Be aware that the monorail back to Excalibur is designed with making you walk through another large casino before you exit.

Back at the Trop, we spent the rest of the afternoon in that really lovely pool.  Ahhh, I get a warm feeling just thinking about it...and that's not just the 8-year old who just swam by!
Another View of the Great Pool at the Tropicana

Just before dinner, we head back to NYNY and buy tickets for the Manhattan Express roller coaster.  This is a steel coaster themed to New York taxicabs that takes you on a three minute excursion around the Statue of Liberty and the buildings.  There are two inversions...a tear-drop loop and a heart-line roll into a half-loop.  It's fun, expensive ($10), and very, very bumpy.  Be prepared to have a headache when it's over. 

The large amusement area where the coaster station is located is themed to Coney Island and it even smells the same! 

Dinner was at Il Fornaio inside NYNY.  We got a great table next to a pond and bridge (supposedly Central Park).  I guess this place is supposed to remind you of Tavern on the Green.  Doesn't really, but it's still a very nice place with very good food.  Not cheap though, but after the debacle of San Remo, a very nice sit down meal was just what the doctor ordered.

After the sun went down, we called on Maverick Helicopters to give us a lift.  We headed down to their office on the outskirts of McCarran Airport.  After plying us with a glass of champagne, we were ushered into one of their ASTAR helicopters.  Since Tim couldn't get in on his own, the pilot shut down the engines before helping us get him in the craft making it safer, easier, and less noisy than with them on.

Watch the Video!

Once aboard and with the engines up, we donned our headsets while our pilot, Darren, whisked us up and away.   We flew at a thousand feet and a hundred miles an hour up the strip, passing by the observation deck of the Stratosphere, over the Fremont Street Experience, and headed back to the south.  Darren flew us threw the ultra-bright spotlight emanating from the top of Luxor's pyramid and we hovered over the endless expanse of the Mandalay Bay's pool area (the very best hotel pool in Vegas) before landing back at Maverick's offices.

It was over with all too quick, but was worth every penny and turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved